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JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. Vol. I.] From Shakespeare To Pope. 149 XI. — A Review of Edmund Gosse's "From Shakespeare To Pope." By henry E. shepherd, LL. D., president of the college of charleston, charleston s. c. To the student of English literature from a merely popular point of view, this work of Mr. Gosse's, cannot fail to commend itself Its mode of treatment is pleasing— the style is lucid, the narrative is lightened by the judicious introduction of biographi- cal sketches and entertaining reminiscences. Despite its many agreeable features, it lacks both the depth and breadth of philosophic or scientific investigation, and the critical student of our literary evolution, will lay it aside, with a mingled feeling of disappointment and regret. The volume contains a series of lectures delivered before the Lowell Institute, and the Johns Hopkins University, during the season of 1884 and 1885. The restraints that are naturally imposed by the presence of popular audiences, will no doubt serve in some measure to account for the superficial manner of dealing with the subject, which is a distinctive characteristic of the work. Perhaps no writer of our time is more capable of tracing the delicate process of transition from Shakespeare to Pope, than the author of these discourses, a reflection which tends only to enhance our sense of regret, that so rare an opportunity has not been so fully availed of, as the peculiar gifts and attainments of the author had induced us to expect. We fail to discover the delicate insight, the keen penetration, the complete grasp of the subject, which are a conspicuous feature of Mark Pattison's studies in our poetry, and we do not consciously exaggerate when we say, that in the Prefaces to his editions to Pope, Pattison has exhibited the salient features of the transition era, more effectively than Mr. Gosse has done, in his series of dis- courses upon the same period. We purpose in the present paper, a brief criticism of that portion of Mr. Gosse's work, which traces the development of the classical style — between the death of Shakespeare and the rise of Pope — as well as the 150 Henry E. Shepherd, [1884-5. influence of the classical school upon the literature of our own era. The purely biographical features of the volume must be passed over, first, from lack of adequate space ; secondly and chiefly, because they are so charmingly conceived and grace- fully expressed, as to be in no regard obnoxious to criticism. If we leave out of consideration also, the description of those fitful struggles of departing life which Mr. Gosse has dignified with the name of " reaction," the essence of the work, the dis- cussion of cause and effect, and that alone directly concerns us in the present review, resolves itself mainly, into the first lecture, and the closing pages of the last. In introducing his theme, Mr. Gosse is disposed to attribute the transition from the crea- tive energy and wanton exuberance of Elizabethan days to the critical procedures, the scrupulous regard to propriety of dic- tion and symmetry that attained their climax under the dispen- sation of which Pope was the acknowledged oracle, in the first place to that tendency developed by most European literatures during the seventeenth century towards structural perfection, and in the second, to a conscious and deliberate revolt during the first half of the century, against the "hysterical riot," the licentiousness and grotesqueness of the preceding era. It is perhaps difficult to reconcile these two explanations — one of which is general, the other, specific in character. If the transi- tion from the unrestrained energy of the Elizabethan age, to the artistic and regulative fashion of our classical school, was merely one phase of a simultaneous movement of European literatures, it must have been undesigned and unconscious ; if it was a deliberate reaction against the dominant tendencies of the pre- ceding epoch, it assumes the character of an organized artistic movement. We note, we think, in Mr. Gosse's work, a disposi- tion to insist too rigidly upon the division into periods, a tendency in which Mr. G. is by no means alone. However convenient or desirable, Xht. periodic division may prove for the practical ends of classification and instruction, if carried out to its extreme results, it tends to obscure that oneness of spirit, that logical continuity, which characterize alike our history and our literature, in every phase of their complex life. As an illustration of this tendency, it is simply necessary to cite the mode in which historians of our language and our litera- ture, deal respectively with the age of Elizabeth and the age of Anne. The former of these is tersely disposed of as the age of Vol. 1.3 From Shakespeare To Pope. 151 creative power. The latter as the era of critical refinement and expansion of our language. As mere facts of philological his- tory, these statements are in their essential features, accurate, but the inferences that may be drawn fix)m their broadly general- ized form, are liable seriously to mislead the immature and un- critical student of our speech. They confer upon each of these periods a character of exclusiveness, at variance with the reality, ignoring for instance, so far as the Elizabethan epoch is con- cerned, the important truth that during the first thirty years of Elizabeth's reign, the English language underwent a thorough re-formation and reconstruction, patient scholars, brilliant knights, grave and thoughtful statesmen, even royalty, engag- ing with affectionate assiduity in the task of expanding and invigorating the unregulated vernacular.' The English of Shakespeare received a discipline, not less thorough, if less exact, than that of Pope and Addison. It is probable that a more searching and scientific investigation of our literary history than has thus far been made, would demon- strate that every form of literary activity may be found in each epoch, some being more conspicuous in certain periods and under specific stimulating conditions, but all existing in greater or less measure in every phase of our intellectual development. Shakespeare, Bacon, and Ben Jonson were contemporaries ; the same is true of Addison and De Foe, of Swift and Pope. Macaulay, whose style is the supreme outcome of the critical school, lived in the same age with Thomas Carlyle, the Titanic energy of whose periods would seem to place him among the colossal minds that were " cast in the mighty mould " of the Elizabethan demigods. We regret too, that Mr. Gosse has dealt so sparingly with the complex but most fascinating history of the seventeenth century, as a means of elucidating, as well as illuminating his subject. It is to be deplored that the zealous enthusiasm and discriminating judgment of his " friend," Mr. Gardiner, have not been more freely availed of in this respect. With all its bewildering intricacy, there is an absorbing interest connected with the history of the seventeenth, notably from the accession of Charles I, 1625, to the constitutional revolution of 1688, to which few periods in our annals present a parallel. In I See Dr. Drake's Life and Times of Shakespeare, Formation of Elizabethan English, Southern Review, October, 187a. Shepherd's History of the English Language, chapter lix, page 153. 152 Henry E. Shepherd, [1884-5. view of the increasing light which the scientific study of history- is reflecting upon the processes of philology, an obligation that philology has not failed gratefully to acknowledge, it is a source of peculiar regret, that Mr. Gosse has touched with so tender a hand upon the historic issues in course of evolution during the period embraced by his literary investigations. It is in the records and memoirs of Charles the First's reign, the Common- wealth and the Protectorate, that we trace the growth of those influences which prepared the way for the advent of the critical dispensation, the classical economy of Addison and Pope. Mr. Gosse, it seems to us, fails to apprehend the depth, as well the significance, of the Puritan movement, and to appreciate imper- fectly its impress upon the literary character of the age which is the special theme of his researches. We cannot acquiesce unreservedly in the view that the classical movement of the seventeenth century, was a mere revolt against the "Jacobean riot," the wantonness and prodigality of the Elizabethan day. We can readily believe with Mr. Gosse, that the movement in its inception stages was not sensibly affected by French influ- ence, though no one, we suspect, will dispute the existence of that influence at a later time, when the example of Boileau, was almost omnipotent in England, as in France. Is it not a more rational and philosophic solution of the origin of classicism in England, during the seventeenth century, to regard it rather as the manifestation of the modern spirit in literary development, the same spirit whose presence may be distinctly perceived in the expansion of physical science and in the wonderful unfolding of political consciousness during this same period, than as an expression of mere satiety, of rebellion against grotesqueness and eccentricity? The writer can distinctly remember that when he was a boy of twelve or fourteen, the poetry of Lord Byron was regarded with a kind of idolatrous admiration by his youthful contemporaries. Since the American civil war, Byron seems to have fallen into a strange oblivion with the generation which was at the stage of childhood during that "winter of our discontent," while almost every school girl of this present era, has some acquaintance with " In Memoriam," and "The Death of Arthur." Yet this marked change has come over us quietly, perhaps unconsciously, we see the result, we did not observe the process. It may be at least assumed that it was eflfected in accordance with natural law, and that satiety or surfeit was not Vol. 1.3 From Shakespeare To Pope. 153 instrumental in bringing it about. The poetry of Byron may experience a palingenesy, when " some ages are passed over." Puritanism was in its leading features an energetic assertion of the modern spirit, though marred by those inconsistencies and aberrations which are characteristic of all essential innovations upon established order and ancient precedent. Let us select 1642 as a critical point in its development, and note the strange conveyence of events in that momentous year. In 1642, Gailileo dies, and Sir Isaac Newton is bom ; Richelieu, the great apostle of absolutism, is called to -his account, and the civil war, precipi- tated by the invincible perfidy and stupid obstinacy of Charles I, begins with the setting up of the royal standard at Nottingham. In all this complexity, we see the manifestation of the modem spirit, in the development of physical science by scholars and thinkers during the distractions of the civil war, in the vital issues involved in the great conflict, as well as in the breaking down of our ponderous syntax, and the dissolution of our " overflow- ing " stanza. The civil war of 1642-1646, was merely the first hostile phase of the struggle that transformed England from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, the aims of the leading spirits in the Long Parliament, were essentially one with those that animated the less heroic men of 1688, who consummated the labors which the reformers of 1640-41, had only begun. Under these varying aspects of progressive life, political, sci- entific, literary, there prevails a unity of spirit, as impressive, as it is unmistakable. The entire political development of the seventeenth century from the assembling of the Long Parliament, 1640, to the revolution of 1688, was critical or regulative in character, the revolution itself being a criticism of the constitu- tion, an endeavor to ascertain and fix in precise forms and definite propositions its scope and intent. The famous Bendey- Boyle controversy, was another exhibition of the dominant spirit. Even during the Restoration, when there was an apparently hopeless revulsion in favor of absolute monarchy, the action of the same progressive temper is clearly discernible. The student of Macaulay, Buckle, and Green, will require no confirmation of this statement. We hold then, that the transformation experienced by our prose and poetic style, for the breaking down of our ancient syntax and the dissolution of the old stanza, were analogous and coordinate movements, as Mark Pattison has pointed out, was 154 Henry E. Shepherd, [1884-5. not the outcome of a satiated fancy, but rather one phase of the prevailing critical or rationalistic temper of the English intellect during the seventeenth century. Literary style participated in the general movement — it accommodated itself to the spirit of the incoming dispensation, for literature is " the artistic expres- sion of what men think and feel." The modern spirit has tended to obscure bold and well sustained individuality in literature, perhaps in some degree in all forms of human activity. With its disposition to substitute the general for the special, the ab- stract for the personal and the concrete, we discover the proba- ble explanation of the descent of the supreme monarchs of song, from their thrones. It was not so much reaction or satiety, as the dominion of a spirit that discouraged the colossal individ- uality of Shakespeare, and tolerated, if it did not foster, the common place and the mediocre. There is no just cause of astonishment, that with the extension of such a temper, Shake- speare should have suffered a partial eclipse during more than a century, and the terse but trite couplets of Pope should have become the recognized ideals of grace and elegance in poetic diction. Writers approached more nearly the average intelli- gence of their patrons, and a reading public, if not created, was at least stimulated by the popular tone of the discussion elicited during the revolution of 1688. It is the essentially common- place nature of so many of Pope's utterances, that has engrafted them so firmly upon the structure of our speech — contrast him with Milton in this regard. His popularity as a master of grace- ful and finished platitudes outlined the shock of the romantic revival that marked the closing decades of the eighteenth cen- tury. So far as Mr. Gosse's views in respect to the influence of the classical period upon our modern style, prose as well as poetic, are concerned, they contain a strong element of truth, perhaps not unmingled with error. The training to which our language was subjected during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has probably exhibited its richest results in the " golden cadence" of Macaulay, most of whose tastes and sympathies identified him with the age of Pope and Addison, rather than with the men of his own era. Yet the olden creative fire seems to have been reproduced in Thomas Carlyle, whose style suggests no relation with the classic school, and reveals none of its influence. Even in the '' harping symphonies " of John Henry Newman, Vol. I.] From Shakespeare To Pope. 155 whose English is the ripe outcome of the richest culture, there are occasional manifestations of the ancient spirit, the fervor and brilliancy of Milton and Taylor. Take, for example, his cele- brated passage upon the relation between the science of music and the spiritual life, and especially his farewell to the church of England. The fervid enthusiasm that marked the poetry of the romantic school, perpetuated itself in some of the noblest ex- pressions of our modern prose, indeed, no era has been richer than our own in what the late Principal Shairp so happily de- scribed as " prose-poets." That the romantic epoch ushered in at the close of the eighteenth century, being almost coincident in its origfin with the outbreak of the French revolution, did not degenerate into hysterical extravagance, is in great measure due to the conservative influence of the classical age, for so deep has been its impress upon our literary character, so salutary its re- straining power, that even in seasons of reaction and revolt, they have sufficed to prevent a mere Saturnalia, to guard against wantonness, and ridiculous excess. We part from Mr. Gosse's Lectures with a feeling of genuine regret. His graceful and pleasing treatment of his theme, cannot fail to commend him to the cordial regard of all students of our language and our liter- ary history. We trust that at some future day, he will afford us that broad, philosophic, and comparative exposition of his fascinating subject, of which we believe him to be eminently capable.